Victorian Mourners

I found this photo at and fell in love with the many possibilities it presents for story ideas.


The most obvious is, of course, a funeral during Victorian times.  We can ask who these people are and what connection they had to the deceased. Are they relatives, friends, lovers, neighbors and/or enemies? Who is being buried? How did that person die? Why are there only five mourners at the graveside service?

What if it was a man who died and the women were all his wives? Do they know about each other? Or perhaps one of these people killed the deceased. Or all of them together. What if they are witches and wizards, disguised as normal people, waiting for the service to conclude so they can raise the dead?

Look at the trees in the background. They have a definite Goth feel to them. What if these five in black are cemetery ghosts and no one else can see them? What if one of them is the deceased person, attending in ghost form? In the foreground of the photo we see a mound of dirt on which the figures are standing. Is it just a barren hill they have climbed, or is there another grave behind them waiting to be filled? What does the state of the earth tell you about the season?

The middle woman seems to be holding something. What might it be? What will she do with it? What impact will it have on the service? And the man on the end has his hands clasped behind his back, as though he is bored. Why?

One intriguing photo, many story possibilities.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Elegiac (N or adj. Lat. elegiacus)
Definition: resembling or characteristic of or appropriate to an elegy; expressing sorrow, ofren for something past.
Synomyms: sorrowful, melancholy, mournful, sad
Usage: Her essay read more like an elegiac lament for her lost youthful ideals than an indictment of city government programs.

Fiction Writing is a Jugsaw Puzzle

Writing fiction is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. You fit the outside pieces first, so you have a framework to fill in (your story premise and theme), then you start placing pieces in to build the picture (scenes, characters, events).

The picture emerges slowly, not as a whole, but with intriguing colors here and captivating shapes there (the backstory and the characters’ relationships, actions and emotions). That’s what keeps you wondering what the whole picture will be when it’s finished, keeps you working on choosing the right pieces and finding where they go in the framework.  A little at a time: that’s what creates the tension that keeps readers reading.

Not all at once, but bit by bit, piece by piece, until at last the picture, the story, is complete. Choose just the right details of the backstory that will move the action forward as you develop relationships and emotions and write the action. Then your story will come together like a fascinating jigsaw puzzle that readers won’t be able to put down until they, too, see the full picture.

The New Baby

Here’s a poignant portrait of grandson Augustus Reid Arnold from the camera of  Grandpa (and marvelous sci-fi writer) Mark Arnold. He snapped this masterful portrait of the parents and siblings holding their new addition to the family. (Check out Mark’s great sci-fi novella at:

When we put on our writer’s thinking cap, lots of questions come to mind. Who is this child? Where is he? (Or she, we really can’t tell the baby’s gender from the photograph.) Who is holding him? Is it someone trying to spirit him away? Are those fairy hands touching him, or merely other children? Are they siblings, cousins, children of a commune? Perhaps this child is the fulfillment of a prophecy and enemies are tyring to carry him away. Or the forces of good are trying to keep him safe. Or he is being anointed into a secret society to fulfill an arcane destiny.

Look closely at the background. Is it simply a drape set to make the composition more dramatic? It could be soil, seen in the dark of night. Perhaps hills surround the baby, and these are the hands of creatures from the underworld rising to the surface of the earth or the ocean, come to steal him away. Just how many people are holding/touching him? Are they humans? Alien? Magical? Is the child human, or perhaps a hybrid being?

The possibilities are endless once you really start imagining.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your ideas from this picture…

On Writing: “I like density, not volume. I like to leave something to the imagination. The reader must fit the pieces together, with the author’s discreet help.”  ~Maureen Howard

Winter World

A simple image this time, one of stark, monochromatic beauty from But oh, what a world of stories, characters and/or settings you can find here.

It’s the otherwoldly starkness of this image that appeals to my imagination. I can see an intrepid group of explorers landing on a strange new world to encounter a monochromatic environment that is hostile to human life. In the sweeping miles of ice and snow they find a lone tree, the only sign that life once flourished there. Suddenly, the air is full of—what? Snow? Frozen hydrogen? Or are those birds of prey or carnivorous insects flocking to intercept the first living beings they have seen in years?

This tree could be thrusting up through the clouds into the frozen vastness of space. Or perhaps it is a root system thrusting down through the crust of the planet.  Or it might not be a tree at all, but a creature from another world. Or an alien ship that roams between galaxies on an unknown mission. What kind of beings would live in such a ship? What might their mission be?

Or perhaps this ghostly tree stands not on the surface, but in an unexplored cave deep beneath our feet near the center of the earth. A center that science has told us is fiery hot, but that this photo tells us is frigid and sterile. Or is it?

What setting do you see in this photo?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story/setting ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 1—Character: It is people’s quirks or weaknesses—their flaws—that make them interesting. Even your superheros should have feet of clay, or the reader will lost interest in them.)

Purple Heels

Writer Anna Unkovich ( sent me this fabulous photo of a pair of purple shoes. Not only is the photo great for inspiring stories, but the shoes are also my favorite color. No way I could fail to include them in this blog!

There are a multitude of story directions here. First, you could write the story of the shoes themselves. Where have they been? When did they get home? Or are they still out, maybe at a lover’s house or in a hotel room?

What kind of adventure have they been on? Why are they discarded haphazardly on the carpet and not put away neatly in the closet? It appears there is a sliding door at the right. Has the shoes’ owner simply kicked them off and gone outside barefoot? Why? With whom? For what purpose? What is outside that door?

Now broaden your thoughts. Who wore these shoes? What kind of person would be attracted to purple shoes that have marbled brown insets and red soles? And ankle straps, to say nothing of the height of the heels. For what purpose did this woman purchase these shoes? With what would she wear them? Is she a business woman who wears conervative suits and lets her shoes hint at her wilder side? Perhaps she’s a fashion model who wears only the height of fashion. Or she could be a grandmother hoping to recapture the glory of her youth with fanciful footwear. Or a teenager looking to appear older than her years. Or a working girl who does business on street corners, or an employee of an escort service.

Oh, the stories these shoes could tell. Why not try your hand at putting one of them down for others to read? What else are you dong this weekend?

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Lubricious (Adj. Lat. Lubricus, slippery)

Definition: 1) Offensively displaying or intended to arouse sexual desire; 2) smooth and slippery with oil or similar substance

Synonyms: lustful, salacious, prurient; slick, greasy, unctuous

Usage: His lubricious smile made her wish she hadnt agreed to be alone with him.

The Child In The Pool

Here’s a photo I discovered when I was roaming the net and came across It’s an effective visual to stress safety for backyard pools, but it’s also a great shot that suggests multiple story ideas.

What is actually happening here? Is this a picture of a drowned child? Maybe the child is merely swimming, practicing her floating technique, or in the midst of doing a buttefly stroke. Is she truly alone, or do adults lurk just outside the range of the lens? Are they watching her, or oblivious to the tragdy about to occur?

Did she enter the pool by herself, or was she helped in? Or thrown in? Maybe she has a snorkel that we cannot see, and is she floating along looking at a pattern on the bottom of the pool. Come to think of it, is this indeed a pool, or is it the breakwater at the edge of the sea against which waves are roiling? Is the pattern on the surface merely disturbed water, or a reflection of what is on the bottom of the pool? Is this a tropical location, or a backyard in Michigan in the summer? Or somewhere else altogether?

If we shift perspective outward and create more distance, is this even a child? It could be an adult seen from high up, and this not a pool at all, but the ocean or a lagoon splashing up against cultivated land. Is the water disturbed from her body hitting the surface, or are these swirls actually mini-whirlpools clustered together? Or a disturbance caused by a creature beneath the water?

Once you start really examining the details, you’ll find it amazing how many directions your story could take.

Susan Tuttle

Comment? Your story ideas from this photo…

On Writing: “When I start a book, I always think it’s patently absurd that I can write one. No one, certainly not me, can write a book 500 pages long. But I know I can write 15 pages, and if I write 15 pages every day, eventually I’ll have 500 of them.”  ~John Saul

Using Symbols in Fiction Writing

At the morning session of my “What If? Writing Group” today, we got into an interesting discussion about symbols and the role they play in our stories. One of the students questioned the need for symbols at all, citing that she had never understood what teachers were talking about when she was in English class. Then she added that she never agreed with their interpretation of what the symbols in particular pieces of literature mean, anyway. She didn’t see any reason to mine her writing for possible symbols (See: Lesson #2 in Write It Right, Vol.2: Setting), and was totally resistant to the proposed exercise.

So, we talked about symbols and how they help to deepen our stories, weave inextricable connections, and clarify the underlying meaning to our readers.

Symbols, basically, are everywhere in our lives. One example Richard brought up is the wedding ring, and easily identifiable symbol of love, devotion and commitment. We also talked about the cross, used by today’s Christian society as a symbol of ultimate sacrifice: The giving one’s life for another.

Probably the best known symbol (though we rarely look at it as one) is Sex. It’s the symbol of physical perfection and allure; the symbol of being desirable; the symbol, if you will, of immortality through procreation. Advertisers use scantily-clad sex symbols of both genders to hawk cars, mouthwash, books, magazines, food, clothing, motorboats, vacation retreats—you name it, sex is part of the ads. Because sex sells.

From the time man began to walk upright, long before written records existed, symbols were our most effective form of communication. The caves in both Lascaux and Chauvet in France are filled with symbolic pictures of the story of the inhabitants’ lives. They still speak to us even thousands of years later.

Symbols are part and parcel of who we are as human beings. They touch upon the universal themes of life and impart a deeper understanding of what if means to be alive and human. When we write from our inner truth, from our subconscious mind, symbols will pepper our writing. We can’t help it; it’s how we are made, how we best communicate beneath the words and the syntax and the spelling. When we learn to analyze our writing for symbols, we can then use those symbols during the rewrite phase to strengthen those connections where needed, and add a symbolic thread where it might be missing. Since the symbols are already there, anyway, why not use them to best advantage, to communicate fully with our audience?

When we did the exercise, our protesting student discovered, to her surprise, not only one symbol as she expected, but about 8 of them in a short description of a setting she had done earlier. I don’t know if she has come around or not, but she definitely looked more thoughtful by the time class ended.

Being aware of our symbols and how they interweave through our stories help us to tell more vital and compelling tales. Symbols lift our writing from the ordinary closer to the extraordinary. They help make our writing unforgettable. And isn’t that what we want, as writers?

Here’s a great symbol: A quill pen – the symbol of a writer’s immortality…


Nighttime Cemetery

Here’s a great photo I found on  This one should really get your noir juices flowing. Even if you don’t normally write horror, sci-fi or noir, give this one a try. Stepping outside your comfort zone once in a while is a great way to bring some freshness back to your regular genre.

What a great location for a ghost story this place is. First of all, the grave markers are all ancient, dirty and worn. This obviously is not a new burial ground. It is old, deserted, unkempt—fertile ground for ghosts, spooks, ghouls and all sorts of paranormal phenomena to walk in the dark. Especially considering there already is a ghostly image in the upper left corner. No imagination needed. So, on the surface, this picture looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?

But look closer. The headstone in the lower left has a blush of color on it. Why? What has caused it? Where did it come from? What does it mean? Why has the place been forgotten, deserted? What happened here to drive the people away? What is the source of the light, or do these stones emanate an inner glow of their own? Why do they cast no shadows?

Now check out the so-called “ghost image.” Are those arms reaching out? Perhaps they are pincers or tentacles of some sort. Or a ghost bird’s open beak, ready to close on—what? Or whom? And is that dark spot in the center of the mist an eye? Perhaps this is the ghost of a restless soul, or maybe some unearthly creature set loose in the dark of night. Or maybe it’s merely innocuous mist drifting over the deserted cemetary. Or not-so-innocuous mist. What might happen to those who encounter this mist?

Where is this cemetery? Near a populated town, isolated in the country or tucked into the mountains? On Earth, or another planet? Or maybe this is the haunted burial ground for a long lost civilization that dwelled far beneath the surface of the Earth.

It’s food for thought, and a whole meal for a story.

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

Word of the Week: Tenebrous. (Adj: Lat. tenebrosus, dark)

Definition: dark and gloomy, shadowy.

Synonyms: dark, obscure, somber, Stygian, black, lightless, murky.

Usage: The tenebrous sky seemed to weigh down on the land, slowing all creatures to a crawl.

Piscene Food Play

Here’s a photo from Roland Portillo of Cambria, California. He’s an extremely talented photographer I located through a friend from church, Midge Lenoue. She works in a dentist’s office and he’s a patient whose talent she admires. She put us in touch and Roland’s graciously allowed me to showcase his work on my blog. Take a look at his amazing photos at: I don’t know how long he spends to get just the right shot, but he certainly has a knack for capturing the quintessential moments of life.


What’s going on here? Is the cormorant catching the fish as it jumps out of the water, or is it playing with its food?  How aware is the fish of what is happening? How difficult is it for the bird to eat such a large catch?

Now take this one step further. If this were a setting, what kind would it be? A room, a building, an outdoor park or a forest? What is the atmosphere? How does it smell, taste, feel? What sounds do you hear in this place? What do the bird, the fish, the water, the act of death symbolize? How are they rendered in this setting? For example, the water could be a bed in a dark, undergound room. The fish could be the slick mossy shale that covers the floor. And so on.

It’s quite enlightening to take a natural act of survival and turn it into a setting for your story. Best of all, it comes with symbolism already built in, which can help you deepen the underlying meaning of your tale, and perhaps take you in directions you wouldn’t normally think of going.

Have fun!

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 2—Settings: When searching for the right details to render your settings, always keep symbolism in mind. That helps you keep extraneous details out and leaves in only those that are most intrinsic to the story.)

The Shrouded Boat

Here’s a picture that I snapped of “The Rock” in Morro Bay, California, a huge rounded mountain of stone that juts up out of the ocean just off the shore. I thought it would be interesting to view this amazing formation through the forest of boat masts. But I got more than I bargained for when I put it up on the computer screen. I got something I hadn’t seen at the time, a mystery to solve through a story.


What fascinates me about this picture is that there is one boat shrouded in green coverings amidst the other fishing boats that are rigged and ready to sail. Why? What has happened to the owner of this boat? Why is this boat covered and deserted? Is it just that this boat is the last to be prepared for sailing in the spring? Or the first to be put to bed for the winter? Is the owner away on an extended vacation, or is something more insidious at work here?

The mystery deepens when you realize that here on the Central Coast of California, sailors don’t fold up for the winter. The Pacific coastal waters in this area are both fished and sailed for pleasure year round. Unless the boats are dry-docked for repairs, they are always ready to depart at a moment’s notice. So, why the shrouding of this boat?

And thereby hangs a tale…

Susan Tuttle

Comments? Your story ideas from this photo…

(Hint from Write It Right, Volume 2—Setting: “Write what you know” doesn’t mean subject matter, it means emotion. Mine the depths of your life experiences when you write emotions to find those closest to what the characters are feeling.)